How to deal with bad landlords
Renters' rights aren't particularly strong in Australia. But it's important to know what your landlord can and can't do.
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Renting is a fact of life for many Australians, particularly as property prices become less affordable for first home buyers. This means at some point, you’ll probably find yourself dealing with a landlord. This could be a landlord who refuses to make repairs or tries to blame the tenant for flaws with the property.
The good news is that tenants have channels for dealing with difficult landlords. Here's what you can do if you find yourself in a dicey rental situation.
What if my landlord won’t make repairs?
This can be a common problem for renters. Older properties can easily suffer wear and tear, much of it through no fault of your own. When it comes to property repairs, you share some responsibility with your landlord.
You are responsible for:
- Keeping the property reasonably clean
- Letting the landlord know about any damage or necessary repairs in a timely fashion
- Not negligently or intentionally damaging the property
Your landlord is responsible for:
- Maintaining the property in a reasonable state of repair
- Conducting repairs in a timely manner
Repairs fall into two general categories, and the category of repair will dictate how quickly your landlord will need to address the issue.
Urgent repairs are any repairs that need to happen quickly due to vital services ceasing to function or a fault that makes the property dangerous or unliveable. Some examples might include:
- A blocked or non-functioning toilet
- A burst water pipe
- A gas leak
- A serious roof leak
- Serious electrical faults
- A breakdown of a service essential for hot water or cooking
- Serious storm or fire damage
As the name would suggest, your landlord is obligated to address urgent and emergency repairs as soon as they become necessary. Your best course of action is to inform them about the problem in writing. If they refuse to repair the problem or just ignore you altogether, you have a number of options for addressing the situation.
Pay for the repairs and bill your landlord
If you can’t get hold of your landlord or they’re dragging their feet on the repairs (you should generally give them 24 hours), you can get the problem fixed yourself. You’ll want to try to have the repair done by your landlord’s nominated repairer if possible. If this isn’t possible, you’ll need to ensure the repair is done by someone licensed to carry out the necessary work. Be careful in taking this route, though, as most States and Territories put a cap on the maximum amount a landlord is required to reimburse you for these repairs.
Contact the relevant tribunal
If you can’t afford to pay for the repairs out of pocket, some States and Territories allow you to apply to the relevant tribunal to order your landlord to arrange the repairs. Likewise, if you’ve shelled out for the repairs yourself and your landlord has refused to reimburse you, you can apply to the tribunal. In some cases, you can apply to pay your rent directly to the relevant tribunal until the matter is resolved.
As with urgent repairs, the first course of action is to inform your landlord or property manager in writing. For non-urgent repairs, give a clear deadline for when the repairs should be carried out. Some States and Territories have a specific time frame in which landlords must carry out non-urgent repairs. Once again, if your landlord refuses to do the repairs, you can apply to the relevant tribunal to order the repairs to be completed.
What you can’t do
Though it might be tempting, you cannot refuse to pay your rent because of unresolved repair issues. Rent strikes are a contravention of your tenancy agreement, and could give your landlord grounds to evict you. Be patient and go through the proper channels to get your problem resolved.
What if my landlord is always bothering me?
As a tenant, you have a right to a reasonable level of privacy. Even though it’s their property, there are restrictions in place to keep landlords from dropping by unannounced. In general, landlords must ask your permission to enter the premises. There are, however, a few circumstances in which a landlord can enter the premises without your consent.
Even if landlords enter the premises without your consent, in most cases they are required to provide you with a reasonable period of notice (ranging from a week to 24 hours, depending on the circumstances). Some of the circumstances in which a landlord can enter without consent but with notice would be:
- Property inspections
- Non-urgent repairs or maintenance
- Showing the property to a potential buyer or tenant
- Valuing the property
A note about property inspectionsYour landlord does have the right to inspect the property to ensure you’re maintaining it to a reasonable standard. This does not, however, give them carte blanche to inspect the property as often as they desire. In most States and Territories, property inspections are limited to four per year.
There are also some circumstances in which a landlord can enter your property without your consent and without giving notice. Some of the cases in which a landlord could reasonably enter without notice our consent would be:
- In an emergency
- If they believe you or someone on the premises are in danger
- To carry out urgent repairs
- If they suspect the property is abandoned
- If they reasonably believe the property has been or is about to be seriously damaged
Barring these circumstances, your landlord can’t simply pop by unannounced and expect to gain access to the property. If you find your landlord is repeatedly entering your home without your permission, seek out help from the relevant tribunal.
What if my landlord increases my rent?
Rental yields are on the decline across the nation, and a competitive market for tenants is likely to keep the lid on rents for some time. In the event your landlord does try to increase your rent, there are some rules they need to follow. These rules will depend on the type of lease you’ve signed.
A fixed term lease is one in which the terms and conditions are agreed upon for a specific period of time, for example, two years. If you’ve signed a fixed term lease, your landlord cannot increase your rent during the term unless this has been specifically stipulated in your residential tenancy agreement. Even if your rental agreement does give your landlord the right to increase your rent before the end of the fixed term, they have to provide you notice (usually 60 days) in writing.
A periodic lease is one with no fixed end date. In a periodic lease, a landlord has the right to increase your rent as they see fit. Once again, though, they must provide you notice in writing of the proposed rent increase. In some States and Territories, landlords are only allowed to raise rents once per six month period.
If the rent increase seems excessive
The notice period your landlord is required to give you means you have time to negotiate your rent. In a sluggish rental market, the bargaining power is on your side in this situation. Talk to your landlord and see if you can agree on a fair increase.
If you can’t come to an agreement, you can appeal to your State or Territory tribunal to assess whether the increase is fair.
Getting your bond backWhen you end your tenancy, you’ll want to claim back the bond you paid when you first secured the property. Because your bond is lodged with a State or Territory authority, you don’t have to worry about your landlord pocketing it without any recourse. When your tenancy draws to a close and your landlord performs a final inspection, try to agree on whether you will receive your entire bond back or whether some will go to the landlord for repairs to damage you caused over the course of your tenancy. If you can’t agree, contact the relevant tribunal. In most cases, the burden of proof is on your landlord to demonstrate why you shouldn’t receive your bond.
What if my landlord tries to evict me?
Eviction would be the worst case scenario in the tenant/landlord relationship. Fortunately, a landlord can’t just turf you out on a whim. There are very strict laws governing when and how your landlord can terminate your tenancy.
If you’re on a fixed term lease, your landlord must have specific grounds for evicting you. An eviction order during a fixed term lease means that you’ve breached your tenancy agreement in some way. For example, you might be behind on your rent, be using the premises for illegal purposes or have brought in other tenants without consent.
In most cases, a landlord has to give you a notice period before they can evict you. In most States and Territories, this is 14 days. If the grounds for eviction is non-payment of rent, you must be at least 14 days behind on your rent before you can be evicted, and most States and Territories will require your landlord to rescind the eviction notice if you pay the arrears.
The only circumstances in which landlords can order you to immediately vacate would be if you are causing malicious damage to the property or putting your neighbours in danger.
One thing a landlord cannot do if you’re on a fixed lease is sell the property during your tenancy.
Once your lease is coming to an end, if a landlord does not want to extend your tenancy to a periodic lease, they will have to give you notice. This period of notice varies depending on where you live, from 30 days in New South Wales all the way up to 90 days in Victoria.
Your tenancy situation becomes slightly less secure. A landlord can generally terminate your tenancy without any specific grounds, but they do have to provide you adequate notice. Again, this varies from state to state, but is generally between 90 and 120 days.
If the landlord does have a specific reason, such as the sale of the property, they’ll also have to provide you a notice period. As with a fixed lease, you can be asked to leave with no notice period if you’re putting neighbours in danger or causing malicious damage to the property.
Landlords are not allowed to evict you out of retaliation for complaints or requests for repairs or maintenance. If you’ve been served an eviction notice by your landlord and you suspect the reasons might be retaliatory, contact the relevant tribunal immediately.
There are two sides to every story. Find out what to do if you’re a landlord with bad tenants.
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